As more women join the workforce the demand for suitable and affordable child care grows. The cost varies and it’s often difficult to navigate the system. So, how do you know what services are available and whether your family is eligible to access government subsidy?
Child care is widely used in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that in 2014 about half of children under age 12 attended some type of child care. Samantha Page is CEO of Early Childhood Australia, the country’s peak early childhood advocacy organisation. She says there are important questions to think about when choosing a service provider.
“What kind of hours you want to use? What days of the week and how many hours? Whether you want the service to be close to your home or close to your work. What things matter to you in terms of how your child is looked after?”
Long day care is the most common choice for parents with pre-school age children.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, about 45 per cent of children between age 2-3 years attended long day care in 2011.
“If you’re going to work and you want a service that’s open early in the morning and open late in the evening and gives you full day coverage, then long day care is a good way to go because those services often open early and close late, and provide a full long day of care. The centre is staffed so that there are plenty of educators available to provide that service and usually they provide food and lots of good activities, interesting things for children to do at all ages.”
Family day care is an approved service provided at the educators’ own home.
It is a more home-like environment compared to long day care centres. An ABS study on Childhood Education and Care finds 2.5 per cent of Australian children attended family day care in 2014.
“If you’re looking for shorter hours or it’s more important to you that your child is in a small group and has really strong relationship with a single educator and that you can manage the hours that are offered, then family day care might be the alternative service to look at.”
It was also Samantha Page’s preferred choice with her own children when she first returned to work.
“I wanted this service close to where I was working. I wanted to be able to go and breastfeed the baby for the first few months when I was back at work. I wanted the child in a small group with just one educator. But what it meant was I didn't have the flexibility with hours and the educator only had a spot on certain days. After a while when I was picking up more hours at work by then I had stopped breast feeding, long day care was a better fit for me in terms of the hours that I was working.”
There are child care services for outside of school hours.
“For older children who are at school but parents are working and they need care before school or after school or in the school holiday, those programs are usually linked to the school. So you usually decide where your child is going to go school and ask them about the after school options that are available connected to that school because what’s usually important to the parent is that the care is on the school or very close to the school where children can safely travel to the after school care or from before school care to schools.”
Parents can check the rating of a service provider by visiting the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority website.
“There is a national quality framework and they get a rating of either working towards the national quality standard, meeting the national quality standard or exceeding the national quality standard.”
The Australian government provides child care support for eligible families: Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.
Child Care Benefit is available to families who meet the Department of Human Services’ income test.
“The childcare benefit pays a proportion of the fee and it is means tested so it depends on your household income as to how much Child Care Benefit you’re eligible for but that will pay sort of up to $4 an hour of the fee.”
The Child Care Rebate isn’t income tested, as long as parents meet the work, training or study requirements during the week. It covers up to 50 per cent of the child care cost with a limit of $7,500 per child.
However, the government also requires all children to be immunised in order to access child care payments. Families need to register with Centrelink and use approved or registered child care service.
“The Child Care Rebate reimburses you effectively 50% of your out-of-pocket expenses. For example, you’re using a long day care service that charges $100 a day, you might be eligible for up to $40 or $46 of that covered by Child Care Benefit and then of the remaining $60 you have to pay, you might get $30 of that back through the Child Care Rebate.”
The cost of services varies depending on the type of child care you use. Parents should speak to Centrelink to assess how much subsidy they can receive to offset the fees.
“Long day care for example usually charges per day because you’re paying for the flexibility of the service being available all day. You’re not just paying for the hours that your children attends. Whereas family day care often has shorter days or sessions of care or may bill per hour or part of an hour so their pricing is a bit different. So it really depends on how many hours you need and what service you’re going to use as to what the cost will be and of course what subsidy eligibility you have.”
The more popular centres in metropolitan areas tend to have a longer waiting list, so parents need to sign up early to save a spot.
“Look, it depends where you live. It’s worth wherever you’re living to check out how the services are around you pretty early on so if you’re expecting a baby or you have recently had a baby, you might want to get in touch with the services around you in the area to find out whether they have a waiting list and how long that waiting list is.”
You can check the quality ratings of a service provider by visiting www.acecqa.org.au